Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Comparison Trap

I occasionally search the web for other mom blogs to see what's out there and who's writing.  One night I read entries from a woman who successfully homeschools her children, feeds her family of six for less than $300 a month, and throws cleverly-themed, environmentally-friendly birthday parties with elaborate homemade favors for the guests to take home as keepsakes.

I've stumbled onto blogs that garner thousands of hits daily, blogs written by individuals who seem able to draw in web traffic as easily as my house draws in those little plastic toys that we trip over.  They're publishing new books.  They're getting rave reviews.  I'm pretty sure they're even having a better hair days than I am.

When I contrast this with the fact I don't even call my kids by the right names most days, it's easy to feel as if I don't measure up.

But here's the rub: you never win when you compare yourself to others.  Never.  Even if you come ahead in your estimation, you're not winning.  Comparison is an unfair measure to discern your worth, one that either deceptively elevates you or crushingly deflates you.  Neither of these are productive end results.

Earlier this semester, for example, I was told that I was surprisingly coherent for having such little children. This was quite sweet, but the truth is that I've struggled to pull my thoughts together, keep track of my belongings, and remember what day it is when I wake up each morning.

You make motherhood look effortless, this woman continued. Clearly, she hadn't witnessed the day I had gone upstairs to change Kerrington's diaper and came downstairs to find all the lights turned off, Reese running through the house nearly naked, and Brooke dancing on top of the table.  My reaction had been less than graceful.

I didn't feel coherent.  I didn't feel pulled together.  Things didn't feel effortless.

The truth is, motherhood (and life) is a very messy process, but we often only witness our own messes.  It's easy to compare our inner weaknesses -- those ugly parts that we know so well -- with other people's external strengths.

This past weekend my husband was occupied with several last-minute work responsibilities.  Neither he nor I had anticipated his absence.  I quickly grew bitter -- I had my own pile of grading to finish, the girls were perpetually needy, and the household chores were piling up.  Everything was falling on me, I bemoaned.

Then I thought about women with young children whose husbands are deployed to war, while I'm frustrated that my husband's job demanded extra time for one measly weekend.  The comparison began, spiraling downward, and as I followed the rabbit hole I grew incrementally more upset at my own bad attitude.  Not only was I comparing myself to real women, I was comparing myself with hypothetical women who, in my estimation, were bearing much greater burdens with more more grace.

It was ugly.  Did it help me to snap out of my bad attitude?  No.  Did it spur me on to do better?  Not exactly.

What did help was getting a good night's sleep and reminding myself where my worth comes from -- which is not from my success (or lackthereof) as a mother, a wife, a homemaker, a teacher, a writer, or a person. 

My worth comes from my Creator -- one who considered me and sent Jesus to die for me.  For me!  I'm a woman who gets frustrated with my children.  I'm a wife who gets cranky.  I'm a teacher who grows impatient with her students.  I'm a person who forgets to be thankful for blessings, who feels entitled, who envies, who judges.  I'm notably imperfect.

I want to be entirely transparent about this.  I don't have it all together.

Nobody does.

What is so beautiful, so humbling, is that God knows all of this and he still sees worth in us.  He still wants to be close to us, to know our thoughts, to enjoy our company.  He knows we can't measure up to perfection, and that's why He provided a way for us to be made right through Jesus.

God doesn't want us striving to be anyone other than ourselves, and comparing ourselves to others -- real or hypothetical -- only hinders us from being the best "us" that we can be.

It's a trap, and I've been snared plenty of times.  I don't want to waste any more time getting caught.

2 comments:

  1. Robin, thank you for this post. It really spoke to how I've been feeling this week. In particular I keep comparing (and therefore questioning) how my daughter and I are doing in setting up a routine and sleeping schedule. This goes completely against my conviction to use my mothering gut instincts, in fact making me deny that I even have such instincts, and causes me to be unforgiving when I can't get her down for a nap, or don't know why she's crying. Reading parenting books has made it even worse - even the books that encourage you to use your instincts - because they convince me that I'm not using them correctly. Anyhow...you're not alone in this one, and it definitely helps me to know that I'm not either. Thanks for the reminder to breathe and be centered in who I am, and to lean on God for support in that which I cannot do myself.

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  2. Thanks, Anne, and I would agree with you: parenting books can certainly exacerbate the problem sometimes! I am positive that you're doing a wonderful job with your little one. In those early weeks (and months) it's often so hard to know why a little one is crying, not going down for a nap, etc., especially when you're in a haze of sleep deprivation and recovery yourself. So, no comparisions! You're a great mommy, and you love your daughter. That is the best gift you could ever give. :)

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